The Role of the Platoon Leader in the Future Force Reconnaissance Platoon

Maybe It’s Time to Reconsider the ‘Follow Me’ Paradigm?

Lieutenant Colonel JD Lock, US Army (Retired)

February 2006

 

Note:  While written a few years back and the FCS -Future Combat System/Future Force - concept has been what we call 'OBE' - Overcome by events -of Iran, Afghanistan and the cancelation of FCS, the ongoing changes as a result of incorporated advance technologies still applies...even moreso today than they did in 2006 given the overwhelming development and acquisition of C4ISR related systems.

 

The Army’s paradigm of combat leadership has always advocated—quite successfully, one may add—that leaders ‘set the example by leading from the front’ with a “Follow Me!” type mentality.  In an environment where situational awareness was a function of a commander being on the ground and seeing the terrain at the decisive point of action, that was the only real way to truly develop an understanding of any tactical situation, especially at company and platoon levels.  Now, Future Combat Systems (FCS) related advance technology just may break that paradigm by requiring combat leaders with a “Follow Me!” mentality to literally lead from the rear.

 

BACKGROUND: The Future Force’s paradigm is ‘See First; Understand First; Act First; Finish Decisively.’

 

To Understand First, leaders must understand the enemy’s patterns and project his actions.  By filtering and fusing incoming information and data, we will see enemy patterns and options emerging.  Onboard fusion is a combination of automated and human analysis at the Soldier, platform, and system level. done as low as company level and some automated fusion down to platoon level.  Information turns into intelligence, screened for source accuracy, duplication, and timeliness. Leaders at all echelons will see emerging patterns in terms of tactical indicators gained from ISR, then assess what that information means, to allow informed tactical decisions.

Paragraph 4.2.2, Page 4-5

Change 3 to TRADOC Pam 525-3-90 FCS Equipped UA O&O, 15 December 2004

 

As noted, in order to Understand First, leaders down to company level (by definition that includes Platoon) must combine automated analysis of tactics and Command and Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (C4ISR) with their own human analysis in order to arrive leverage that information into sound tactical decisions.

 

This combination of automated and human analysis is defined within the FCS concept as ‘Fusion.’

 

Fusion is the combining or blending of data and information from single or multiple sources (sensors, logistics) into information. It involves the process of comparison, evaluation, and related activities to ensure proper correlations of data or information exist and draw out the significance of those correlations.  New data, when fused with other data, can become information.  Information, when fused with additional data and/or information can become combat (actionable) information and/or intelligence.

 

The unprecedented number of sensors in the Future Force will generate a significant increased stream of discrete data that left unaltered will be of limited value.  Current and anticipated advances in information technology, battlefield sensors (quantity and quality), and communications have combined to literally overwhelm the ability of human beings to achieve a sufficient level of understanding about the battlefield environment.  This potential flood of information, combined with ever compressed decision cycle times, places a paralyzing information burden on commanders.

 

Fusion can help to alleviate some of this information paralysis by providing a means to merge the various sources of data into a more coherent picture for commanders.

Extracts from Paragraph 4.6.2.8, Page 4-30

Change 3 to TRADOC Pam 525-3-90 FCS Equipped UA O&O, 15 December 2004

 

The FCS Brigade Combat Team (BCT) [note: BCT was formally Unit of Action (UA)] O&O (Operational & Organizational Plan) also specifically discusses the processing of information, the Fusion, at platoon and company level.

 

After data is preprocessed, it enters the data fusion environment, probably onboard the platoon or company Command and Control Vehicle (C2V), which will have larger servers and more sophisticated software for executing fusion.  Beginning with data alignment, data is processed so that it is represented in a standard format.  The information is also registered here.  Registration is the process of spatially and temporally matching the location reported by the sensor to a point on the map in the COP.  Association is the process that describes an entity.  This involves gating, a coarse test that partitions measurements into two groups–those potentially assigned to an existing target or not.  It also involves correlation that finalizes observation-to-track assignments.  Correlation consists of a means of making comparisons between candidate assignments and a logic scheme that permits consistent selection of the best set of assignments.

 

Tracking is the process of maintaining a dynamic collection of information on a specific entity, such as a position, velocity, bearing, or any other defined feature.  Tracking depends strongly on an effective association algorithm, as well as an adequate sample rate and sensor density.  After association and tracking, identification can take place.  This is not the sensor level of combat identification, but the process where the fusion engine compares the attributes of the target to an ideal representation of a class of targets.  The Joint Director’s Laboratory describes this process in terms of typing and templating.  Typing assigns weights to a general feature.  Templating is a logic-based pattern recognition technique that matches a set of extracted features to entries in a database of standard templates.

 

Processing at the Platoon and Company Level, Paragraph H.7.4.2, Pg H-26

Change 3 to TRADOC Pam 525-3-90 FCS Equipped UA O&O, 15 December 2004

 

Finally, within Fusion, there are six levels of processing, all of which company and platoon leaders will be involved in, to some degree.  “However, it is Levels 1 through 3 that add progressively greater meaning and involves more analysis; Level 4 and 5 are continuous and occur at all levels of fusion.”

 

  • Level 0.  Organize.

  • Level 1.  Identify and correlate (beginning of SA).

  • Level 2.  Aggregate and resolve (SA increases).

  • Level 3.  Interpret, determine, and predict (SA achieved).

  • Level 4.  Assess (review performance and adjust accordingly).

  • Level 5.  Visualize (feedback and redirect activities).

Paragraph 4.6.2.8, Page 4-31

Change 3 to TRADOC Pam 525-3-90 FCS Equipped UA O&O, 15 December 2004

 

DISCUSSION: As one can imagine, a platoon leader will be overwhelmed simply by reading about all his FCS, advanced technology tasks, much less actually having to perform them in some foreign land under enemy fire on a battlefield of the future.

 

Given all these fusion requirements that demand command focus and which generate command decisions, the ability of a platoon leader to perform these fusion and Battle Command (BC) functions is hindered by any requirement to lead from the front.  There is a significant leadership dilemma at the platoon level associated with these advanced technologies.  If a platoon leader is forward, physically engaged moving with a single element (team), concerned about local security and potentially engaged in close-quarters combat, that platoon leader cannot be properly or adequately focused on the fusion requirements as described in the FCS O&O.  Furthermore, under such circumstances, the platoon leader’s ability to leverage any ISR to support his BC maneuver will most likely be hindered, also.

 

Envision a scenario where the platoon leader has dismounted with an Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade and Below (FBCB2) ‘Tablet’ to lead one of his teams on a reconnaissance mission.  If it’s daylight, he will have difficulty reading the screen because of the day’s glare; if it’s at night, he’ll have to duck under a hood to minimize the Tablet screen’s exposure to light and infra-red sensitive devices.  He will not be able to focus on the Blue Force Tracking (BFT) positions of his dispersed elements (provided through their Squad Radio Waveform [SRW] radios) without halting for a brief moment; a halt that will increase in length as he views the screen and directs the maneuver of his elements.  Given that the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) robotics controller will be back at the vehicle, the platoon leader will be forced to give him continued guidance on what he is looking for.  The robotics controller will have to make the decisions, then, where to fly and what images to ‘chip’ (images) to the platoon leader.  This sequence of events will go back and forth until the platoon leader finally has what he is looking for.  In the meantime, there will either be security issues as the team waits in place or a security element will need to be left behind to secure the platoon leader while the remainder of the team element moves foreword, forcing the platoon leader to catch up at a later time.  Of course, with a three man dismounted team (as proposed in the FCS I&O for Scouts), this will most likely be impossible to do.  Either way, the team’s maneuver or combat capabilities will be degraded by a platoon leader at the halt.  Furthermore, the platoon leader’s BC function will require him to not only keep his commander informed but to also pass along applicable, and ‘fused,’ ISR.

 

Given the complexity of fusion and the critical thought analysis of integrating ISR with tactical movement, there is no other individual within the platoon who can perform such a function in the place of the platoon leader.  Even if there were, for there are some very smart and technically/tactically capable Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO), there would still be the issue of relaying information and guidance back and forth with the platoon leader for him to issue orders and directives.  Without this exchange, the ‘2IC’ (second in command) back ‘in the rear’ would, in essence, become the ‘platoon leader’ with the real platoon leader becoming little more, at that point in time, a team leader.  In other words, “Unacceptable.”

 

The alternative is to have the platoon leader remain with his Command and Control Vehicle (C2V)—or even dismounted nearby with his Tablet, in a relatively secure environment (mobile or in an Objective Rally Point).  With his robotics controller nearby, the platoon leader will be able to personally direct where the UAV needs to go, which images to chip, thus significantly reducing the time to gather such information and significantly enhancing that quality of that information by getting exactly what he wants.  The platoon leader will be able to constantly track and monitor the movement of his dismounts, quickly directing any necessary changes at the time they need to occur.  As a dismount moving with a team, he’d only be able to do so whenever they stopped, meaning precious time would slip away if a maneuver/tactical change needed to be ordered while the Tablet sat in the platoon leader’s rucksack on his back.

 

An additional benefit of remaining with the C2V is that it also provides the platoon leader with the flexibility of having a mobile gun system that can serve as a reserve in the event his dismounts need a quick reaction force (QRF).  In that event, all of the platoon’s—and even, possibly, some company—ISR assets most likely would need to be focused on the immediate emergency task at hand.  Again, that would be an exceptionally difficult fusion of tasks if the platoon leader were dismounted and forced to direct a coordinated running battle from a Tablet.

 

EXPERIMENT/DEMONSTRATION: In support of the Future Combat Systems (FCS) ‘spiral out’ experiments for integration of advanced technologies, the Communications and Electronics Research and Development Engineering Center (CERDEC) conducts an annual ‘On-The-Move’ (OTM) Testbed field experiment at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  With the assistance of National Guard infantrymen who execute the operational assessment, this testbed designs an experiment that integrates the latest Command and Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) technologies available for evaluation against an OPFOR in a field environment.  For the purpose of this experiment, those advanced technologies were:

 

  • FBCB2:           Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade & Below with upgraded software

  • SRW:              Soldier Radio Waveform

  • UAVs:            Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

    • TACMAV (Tactical Micro Aerial Vehicle)

    • Raven (Class I surrogate)

    • Buster (Class I)

  • SUGV:            Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle

    • ToughBot

    • LynchBot

  • C2V/R&SV:    Command & Control/Reconnaissance & Surveillance Vehicle (surrogate)

  • ARV-R:           Armored Robotic Vehicle – Reconnaissance (surrogate)

 

While there were a number of experimental evaluation objectives, especially the ‘value added’ of the advanced technologies involved to mission accomplishment, this exercise also provided an opportunity to evaluate the viability of the future force task organization, in this case a Reconnaissance Platoon, that served as the experimental unit’s force structure.  As it so happened, our experiment seemed to demonstrate that the proposed FCS Operations & Organization (O&O) force structure for the Combined Arms Battalion’s (CAB) Reconnaissance Troop reconnaissance platoons was somewhat lacking.

 

Given that these spiral out experiments are in support of the FCS, the FY05 Testbed experiment was designed around the reconnaissance platoon of the CAB Reconnaissance Troop.  Under the FCS equipped Unit of Action (UA) [note: now redesignated as the Brigade Combat Team (BCT)] O&O, the Reconnaissance Platoon’s structure (Figure 1) calls for three FCS Reconnaissance & Surveillance (R&SV) type vehicles and a total of 18 soldiers:

 

OBSERVATIONS/CONCLUSION: Quite by accident, our experiment provided a glimpse into this paradigm shift as a function of how our two platoon leaders ‘led’ their platoons during our tactical exercises.  1st Platoon, led by a Ranger qualified First Lieutenant, was always led by the lieutenant on their dismounted reconnaissance patrols.  2nd Platoon, led by a Master Sergeant, generally sent forth their teams under command of their associated team leaders while the Master Sergeant platoon leader remained back at the ORP with his ‘C2V.’  The lieutenant had to attempt ‘fusion’ and gain situational awareness while moving with a team, towards the enemy, all the while stopping to squint in the glare of the sun and understand the ‘hieroglyphics’ and symbols on his dismounted FBCB2 ‘Tablet’ to gain any situational awareness or direct what ISR assets he had available to him, much less control the movement of his dismounted force.  Meanwhile, the master sergeant platoon leader in 2nd Platoon who remained situated before his FBCB2 screen while mobile or sitting in a secure position working his FBCB2 Tablet when at the halt in an ORP, easily (aside from network and communications issues) maintained control of not only his ISR assets for SA but also seemed to have an easier time maneuvering his dismounted elements.

 

Ultimately, based upon my own personal observations and experiences, I am convinced that 2nd Platoon’s performance and mission accomplishment was significantly better than that of 1st Platoon’s.  And, in the end, I do not believe that was as much a reflection on the platoon leaders and platoon members as much as it was an unwitting reflection—and experiment, per se—of two diametrically opposed C2 leadership approaches.

 

There is a scene—actually two scenes (DVD #9 & #12)—in the science fiction movie Aliens.  Getting beyond the fact that the movie’s platoon leader is a dweeby geek lacking backbone, the movie finds an infantry/reconnaissance platoon deployed in a C2V/R&SV type vehicle.  Deploying his dismounts, the platoon leader directs their movements from inside the vehicle, where he is able to ‘fuse’ their ISR, relate it to the structure they are searching and direct movements/actions accordingly.  It is a glimpse of platoon/company level combat in the future…as long as one gets beyond the image of the platoon being wiped out because of the LT’s in competency by the Aliens they are searching for.

 

RECOMMENDATION(S): In order to successfully challenge and to evaluate the current paradigm of platoon leaders leading from the front, the experimental test criteria/scenario needs to be expanded to include platoon leaders commanding their elements both from the C2V and dismounted with their advancing teams.  Such an experiment will expand from the simple Baseline Case and Advanced Case experimental evaluations.  Thus, future evaluations should be executed as a 4x4 experiment (Table 1):

 

 

                             PLT LDR Mounted

             PLT LDR Dismounted

                              Baseline Case

                        1st/2nd Plt

          1st/2nd Plt

                              Advanced Case

                        1st/2nd Plt

           1st/2nd Plt

 

                                                                                                                                 Table 1

 

This approach should be able to determine whether or not a doctrinal shift in BC at platoon level should be realistically considered as a function of the FCS advanced technologies.

 

Furthermore, such an experimental set-up would only serve to emphasize the necessity of committing Active Duty platoon elements as EXFOR in support of the Testbed (Observation 12) for the execution of such a 4x4 experiment would require a considerable number of successful runs above and beyond those we were able to achieve in FY2005.  Given that the schedule most likely cannot be expanded, the only item within the schedule that can be condensed is that of training the EXFOR.  Only Active Duty soldiers, already trained in the basic fundamental infantry soldier skills necessary to start at a ‘fast walk’ or ‘run,’ will most likely be able to provide the time necessary to successfully execute this type of experiment.